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Manteca council barking up wrong tree on dog fee

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POSTED July 24, 2010 2:53 a.m.
The Manteca City Council on Aug. 3 will have the second reading of an ordinance for the municipal license fees for unfixed dogs that will reduce them from $100 to $50 a year.

State law requires a second reading - and second vote of approval - of any ordinance before it can legally go into effect which is 45 days after the second vote. The council should follow Councilwoman Debby Moorhead - the only elected official to cast a dissenting vote on the measure this past week - and vote no.

Here’s why.

Moorhead brought up the issue because she felt the $100 annual fee to license unfixed dogs adopted in January in a bid to discourage the proliferation of unwanted dogs was draconian and punished honest and responsible dog owners.  She felt slashing it in half to $50 and then giving a multiple year discount still was unfair and let the irresponsible dog owners off the hook.

She’s right.

The idea here is to get people to comply with some real basic health concerns such as making sure their dogs get rabies shots. Then there is the issue of making sure people are responsible and don’t let their dogs roam all over town. And, of course, there is the rationale that prompted making the fee for unfixed dogs initially five times higher - and now 2.5 times higher - than fixed dogs.  The rationale was to encourage people to have their dogs fixed to reduce the number of unwanted dogs that have to be put to sleep.

Responsible dog owners, of course, pay for shots and licenses. They also - assuming they breed their animals - do so in a manner that the puppies are either sold or cared for and not simply dumped along a road somewhere to fend for themselves.

So why is the city’s ordinance aimed right at the pocketbooks of responsible people?
The Manteca City Council needs to scrap its fee structure for unfixed dogs and go back to the drawing board.

First, make the fee for unfixed dogs $30 a year or just $10 more a year than a fixed dog.

So how, you might ask, does this encourage irresponsible people to register their animals or to neuter or spay their dogs? It doesn’t.

But what it does is stop penalizing the people who are following the intent of the law.

What the city needs to do is require anyone whose unlicensed dog is picked up wandering the streets to pay a $100 fine for not licensing their dog plus pay to have the dog fixed as well as pay all impound fees and at least a one-year license.

By not paying for $30 annual fee to license their unfixed dog, in order to get their dog back they will have to pay what they do now - licensing fee, impound costs and a late charge - but also will be slapped with a fine plus have their dog fixed. If they had issues with fixing the animal before they will have no choice if they don’t follow the law.

Here’s what the city gets out of it: There is an assurance that the animals have rabies shots which is the first and foremost concern. The dogs ultimately will get fixed. The city won’t be penalizing responsible dog owners.

There is a downside, of course. Those whose dogs get out and are picked up may not want to retrieve their animals. That’s fine. It sounds a tad cold-hearted but most of the dogs that cause problems in Manteca for being too aggressive tend not to be licensed. If the irresponsible owner can’t afford or won’t have them fixed in order to get them back, someone else can pay to have them fixed or adopted. They could also go to a group that brokers dog adoptions. And in the worst case scenario they are put down.

Such a revision of the ordinance accomplishes every objective the city says is important without making law-abiding Mantecans take a hit in the pocketbook.

Hopefully someone on the council - perhaps Moorhead - will ask to revisit the fee schedule for unfixed dogs and - pardon the pun - put some real teeth into it to make those who aren’t responsible pay the price for it instead of sticking it to those who follow the law.
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